by Erik Harty
The Hateful Eight is Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film. With his announcement that he will only be making ten films, each new project has become even more enticing. This film carries with it a lot of anticipation, and for the most part, it does not disappoint. Shot on 65mm film stock and, where possible, projected in “glorious 70mm Ultra Panavision,” it is truly a beautiful piece of filmmaking. But is this film a game changer, or is it just a pretty gimmick?
I was fortunate enough to see an early screening of The Hateful Eight at the Director’s Guild of America (DGA), which was followed by a Q&A session between Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan. Leading up to the screening, there was some debate about whether or not the film would be shown in its “true” 70mm version. Fortunately, I got to see it in its full, 70mm Ultra Panavision Roadshow glory.
Before we even get started, it is important to understand the difference between 35mm and 65mm film. While there are all sorts of lens differences, depth of field issues, and more that could be discussed, the fundamental difference is the size of the frame. 65mm is almost twice as big as 35mm. That means that each frame contains more information, literally (as in how much is physically present in the image), but also in terms of the overall resolution of the image. The detail present in 65mm film could only be matched digitally with a camera capable of capturing 8K images. That’s huge. What do you do with that much detail and that massive of a frame? Well for one, you can begin rethinking your editing process.
Beyond the magnificence of 70mm Ultra Panavision, the thing that really stuck out to me about The Hateful Eight was its editing. Now, editing is one of the those things that is usually done best if it’s not noticed at all, and I think that is true with this film. However, the analytical portion of my brain got the better of me this time, so I was specifically looking for cuts during some parts of the movie, meaning the average Joe may not have noticed what I’m going to talk about at all.
The main thing that stuck out to me about the editing was the pacing. I’ve only seen two other Tarantino films, but based on my experience with those and the input of people who have seen all of his films, The Hateful Eight has a different pacing style altogether. Believe it or not, the first half of the film actually moved kind of slow, which is something I’ve never heard said about a Tarantino film. I think the main reason for the change of pace was actually the larger frame size. The amount of detail in each shot requires more time to fully absorb, therefore the shot remains on screen for a longer period of time. You could argue that the pacing is too slow as a result, but I actually enjoyed it.
Another interesting thing to take a look at is the pacing in the second half of the film because it’s much faster, but there’s no swapping between different frame sizes. Unlike say, Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies, if you’re watching part of the movie in 70mm, you’re watching all of it in 70mm. A good chunk of the first half of the movie is dominated by carriage travel, so there’s not a whole lot else going on. The second half of the film, which takes place in a relatively small cabin, is where the action ramps up. However, the increase in pace and activity doesn’t entirely correlate with an increase in the speed and total number of cuts. One of the advantages of having such a massive frame is that you can see more with it. Tarantino used this advantage to full effect by using fewer cuts to show the same amount of information. Since the plot of this film is essentially “one of these things is not like the other,” it’s up to the audience to figure out who’s telling the truth and who’s lying. The only way the audience can do that is by observing each of the characters and how they behave.
The problem is, making a good film with that kind of premise isn’t so simple. It can be very easy to give away too much information, making the answer extremely obvious, or to give away too little information, making the “big reveal” either unbelievable or uninteresting because the audience didn’t have enough information to work with. In my experience, stories like this tend to lean on the “too obvious” side because they want to make sure that everyone gets it. However, The Hateful Eight does a great job of staying right in the middle, primarily because of, you guessed it, the frame size. The big clues in this kind of a story generally happen somewhere away from the main action of the scene, which often necessitates cutting away from the action to a shot of that big clue. Unfortunately, it’s really difficult to maintain any kind of subtlety in revealing clues this way. It’s essentially saying to the audience, “Look over here! Look at this clue that we’re giving you!” That’s where 65mm swoops in to save the day. Many of the key clues in this film are revealed in the background, behind the main action of a scene, but are still visible because of the massive frame size. This creates a subtle bread crumb trail for the audience to follow, but only if they’re paying attention. For the most part, these details are not pointed out explicitly, which I found very refreshing.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Hateful Eight. It’s definitely not just a pretty gimmick. I highly recommend seeing this film in its true 70mm form, but it’s a great watch even if that’s not an option. The overall pacing is a bit slower than other Tarantino films, but I don’t see that as a bad thing in this case. If the gorgeous shots aren’t enough to entice you, then hopefully the mystery element will pique your curiosity. This is not a film to miss.